Quote Originally Posted by King of Nowhere View Post
So... which of those two is accurate? because in two sentences you are telling that there are too many variables to really get to 80%, and then you say that you get close most of the time.

But regardless of that, I think you are putting too much weight to the book. if you have DMed for years, and you read this forum regularly, chances are you're actually more experienced that the people who actually wrote the manual. And those people were writing most for inexperienced players anyway; it is assumed that experienced players will know when to bend the rules and when to skip them entirely.
I've never cared about numbers of encounters and I always went with what feels right for the world. The goblin tribe won't be conveniently divided into 4 easy encounters. After they sent the first group and you dispatch them, either they send every single able-bodied they can into the fray, or they flee. The boss won't send his minions against you one at a time before facing you solo at the end. he will either try to overwhelm with massive force; or, in case he's trying to wear you down, he certainly will try to prevent you from fleeing to rest and come back the next day.
I almost never had a standard adventuring day of 4 encounters. there was generally one big fight as the enemies would pile up everything they had. especially since the party learned teleportation, at which point taking them by attrition is an exercise in futility. Perhaps there were easier encounters, but i didn't even roll those. easy enemies surrendered, or tried to flee, or were killed easily. And it worked well.
Now, I'm not saying you should do as I did. of course everyone is entitled to have a different style.
But I am saying that you could benefit from more spontaneity and less slavish adherence to a bunch of guidelines that were made by people with less actual experience than you, with premises that do not apply to your table, and that were never intended to be strict in the first place.

As for difficulty, as others said, it's up to the table. Some people enjoy different levels of difficulty. But in my experience, a party with even a fairly low (by this forum standards) optimization will still mop the floor easily with things well above their EL.
I don't see a contradiction there; I am pretty good at estimating the difficulty of encounters and the average resource expenditure of my adventures lands right around 80%, but there is enough variance from day to day that it is only an average.

I personally am a "fiction first" sort of player, and would love to be a bit more loose with the encounter budget for the sake of drama and verisimilitude, but my players demand balance and cry foul if they feel it isn't there.

Its kind of a funny disconnect actually, on Saturday I had someone on this thread accusing me of "neurotic adherence to strict balance guidelines," but I had one of my players complaining to me that he felt like I was "just picking CRs out of a hat and throwing them at the party randomly."

Quote Originally Posted by Willie the Duck View Post
Go back to these people and ask them what about the game is too hard. We can't help until we know what they think the problem is.

Most of the time when I have run into this issue (regardless of where in the situation I was located-- DM, complaining players, non-complaining players, or bystander) it has come down to DM and Players having different understanding of the actual situations. Often it comes down to every/most fight having the players feel on-the-ropes, whether that is true or not. Do the players feel like their characters can run if things go badly? Do they think they will know when things are going badly soon enough to successfully run? When they feel like they are in a fight, holding their own, and expending a reasonable amount of resources, does that seem clear to them or are they constantly second guessing whether they know how things are going?
I do ask them, and they give inconsistent answers.

Pretty consistent complaints are:

1: They can't do a full clear of a dungeon in one go without using consumables, and this bugs them even though they have always still made a net profit and are always above suggested WBL.
2: The wizard uses most of his spells in doing so and doesn't have as many as he would like to make scrolls or sell for profit in town.*

In this particular campaign I let the players call a retreat at any time without consequences, as there are several new players in the group and I am trying to build up their confidence without having to risk accidental TPKs.

*: This is a peculiarity of my particular house rules. I use a long rest variant so players don't have unlimited spells during downtime, but I allow them to save up unused spells or convert them to gold. Players can still purchase or craft items normally without expending spell slots.